Opinion: Exploring a ‘Bill of Rights’ for parents

When asked about K-12 education in the last gubernatorial debate between Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the responses zeroed in on “parents’ rights.”

Schmidt announced that, if elected, he would support a parents’ rights bill. Kelly was opposed, having vetoed comparable legislation.

Both Schmidt and Kelly were following the lead of their national parties. Republicans made parental rights a talking point in the fall elections and introduced a Parents’ Bill of Rights in Congress. Democrats quickly voiced opposition.

Democrats criticize the bill as censorship and violation of civil rights. Republicans support it as information transparency and an opportunity to protect children from unsavory ideologies.

What does this mean for Kansas? Before it’s time to vote for governor, here’s a look at the national bill and the bill Kelly vetoed.

According to Peter Greene, a writer for Forbes who spent 39 years as a teacher, the national parents bill of rights lists five rights of parents: the right to know what’s being taught, the right to be heard, the right to see school budgets and spending, the right to protect their child’s privacy and the right to be updated on any violent activity at school.

The national bill is hard to argue with, but it’s not so simple. Provisions of the bill have evolved.

According to the Kansas Legislative Research Department, the vetoed bill required the “board of education of each school district to develop and adopt policies to guarantee parents’ rights (to include) a parent’s ability to:

1) Be informed of and inspect any materials, activities, curriculum, syllabi, surveys, questionnaires, books, magazines, handouts, professional development and training materials, and other materials provided to the parent’s child.

2) Inspect and review all educational and health records of the parent’s child maintained by the school district.

3) Object to any learning material or activity based upon harm to the child or impairment of the parent’s firmly held beliefs, values, or principles and withdraw the parent’s child from said activity; and

4) Challenge the material or educational benefit of any book, magazine, or other material available to students in the school library, the successful result of which is to lead to the removal of the item from the school.”

Educators have pointed out that, although it’s not in any one piece of legislation, parents already have the right to be heard, the right to know what’s being taught, the right to protect their child’s privacy and the right to request opt-out of classes or services.

There is an enormous difference between parental rights for their child and parental control of a school. Currently, no one parent or interest group has the right to veto what is taught or to remove books from all children in a school.

Further, the Kansas bill did not include school safety — point five of the national legislation. In a state where 25% of the population lives in rural areas, preplanned law enforcement response to each school is vital, due to the distance tactical units often must travel to confront an armed intruder.

School shootings across the country and student behavior issues in several Kansas schools demand a scrutinized yearly review of school safety plans — a parental right that shouldn’t be controversial.

Although there will be no more formal debates in the governor’s race, voters can still contact the candidates’ campaigns about parents’ rights.

— Sharon Hartin Iorio is dean emerita at Wichita State University College of Education.


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